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Details are still scarce, but Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)--a powerful member of the Senate Finance Committee--seems to be walking away from the possibility of partially funding health care reform legislation by taxing employer-provided health benefits.

I'll pass along more information as it becomes available. Many observers were expecting the Finance Committee--fairly averse to picking difficult political fights--to propose lifting the exemption on benefits as a means of building revenue for reform. If it rules out that option, there remain, at least in theory other, a number of different ways to cover the price. But many of them would likely prove more--not less--politically difficult.

Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie is currently running ahead in the polls as the Republican nominee for Governor of New Jersey, but the Democrats are now aiming to trip him up using an ages-old maneuver: Attacking Christie for presenting himself as a moderate now, compared to the more right-wing stuff he said when he was campaigning for the Republican nomination.

The campaign of Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine has put up this Web video, going after Christie for saying he agreed on renewable-energy issues with President Obama -- who is very popular in this Democratic state. However, we see that Christie took a different stance on the environment when he was competing with a much more conservative rival within the GOP:

Christie said at a forum: "I've got a feeling that you will see in January 2010, a lot of battles between the Christie administration DEP and the Obama administration EPA."

Of course, candidates on both sides of the aisle frequently take more hard-line stances during primaries, then tack to the middle for the general elections. The key here is that New Jersey Democrats often win elections by tying their Republican opponents to the conservatism of the national GOP. And the Corzine campaign is now beginning to play that angle.

The Christie campaign has not returned a request for comment at this time.

Whether White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is freelancing on the question public option for political reasons, or simply by mistake, he may just hear about it from all sides tonight.

Emanuel is set to attend a meeting on the Hill this evening during which the chairmen of the three House committees with jurisdiction over health care reform--Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) of the Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. George Miller (D-CA) of the Education and Labor Committee; and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) of the Ways and Means Committee--will present their bill to the Democratic caucus.

Their bill, it should be noted, contains a robust public option.

After it became clear this morning that reformers were up in arms--or would soon be up in arms--about White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's suggestion that the President might be willing to support a triggered public option, Obama, still traveling in Russia issued a re-statement of his support for the public option to put out the fire. And by mid-day, reformers had largely cooled off. Privately, though, some acknowledge that the President's statement isn't actually a contradiction of Emanuel's.

"It's not a direct contradiction, no," said one reformer. "But the President's saying what he's said all along, which is that he supports the public option, and in the end that's what matters."

Let's go to the record, shall we?

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A new survey of this year's Virginia gubernatorial race by Public Policy Polling (D) has Republican former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell posting a lead over the Democratic candidate, state Sen. Creigh Deeds.

The numbers: McDonnell 49%, Deeds 43%, with a ±4% margin of error.

A round of polls from other firms, taken right after the June 2 primary, had Deeds ahead and apparently enjoying a post-primary bump. PPP did not release a poll at the time, but it would appear that Deeds' post-primary bounce may have gone away.

The pollster's analysis notes that the Republican nominee for Governor in 2005 also had a lead at this point in the race, but the Democrat ultimately won the race: "The question now is whether McDonnell can sustain it, unlike Jerry Kilgore, or whether Deeds will come from behind to win as Tim Kaine did."

When a leaked flier last week revealed the Washington Post's plan to organize a corporate-sponsored "salon" on health care, the paper portrayed the flier as the hastily-created product of an over-zealous business department which misrepresented the Post's genuine vision for the event.

But now Politico -- which broke the original story -- has obtained a copy of a word document, sent out over two weeks ago, for the planned July 21 event. The document's existence will intensify questions about how, as the Post has claimed, the business and news sides of the paper could have been on such different pages over the event.

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The new Quinnipiac poll of Ohio shows Democrats starting out with a slight edge for the 2010 Senate race in this perennial swing state, which will be an open race for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. George Voinovich.

Both Democrats lead both Republicans, albeit by narrow margins. Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher leads former Rep. Rob Portman by 37%-33%, and he leads auto dealer Tom Ganley by 36%-30%. Democratic Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner edges Portman 35%-34%, and she leads Ganley 35%-31%.

In the Democratic primary, Fisher has 24% to Brunner's 21%, with "Undecided" way ahead with 51%. Portman leads for the Republicans with 33%, followed by Ganley at 10%, and "Undecided" at 55%.

Obviously, the undecideds are very high for all of the primary and general match-ups here, Ohio is a perennial swing state, and we're still very early in the cycle. So we'll see what happens as the race goes on.

The Republicans now have a candidate in the 2010 New Hampshire Senate race, where three-term GOP incumbent Judd Gregg is retiring in a state that has swung significantly to the Democrats over the last few years.

State Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has announced her resignation, effective July 17, and that she will explore a Senate bid. The presumptive Democratic nominee is Rep. Paul Hodes.

The Dems have already moved to hamstring Ayotte on the issue of credibility, with Democratic Gov. John Lynch's office saying that he'd reappointed her, despite being a Republican who had first been appointed by his much more conservative predecessor, with her promising that she would serve her full-term through 2013. (New Hampshire cabinet officers are appointed to fixed-length terms by the Governor, with confirmation by a separately elected Executive Council.)

As we've seen over the last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is now going to be a dead-serious public servant, leaving behind the image of the goofy comedian that he'd cultivated for decades before. With that in mind, it's time to remember and say goodbye to Funny Al -- at least for a while.

During the 2008 campaign, Republicans went out of their way to attack Franken for jokes that he'd told over the course of his comedy career, sometimes taking them out of context to make him seem like a real nut-job. Franken clearly adjusted his own demeanor over the course of that race, and he just barely won it in the end. So he'll probably have to be on his best behavior going forward.

As the first part of our trip down memory lane, here's Franken in the early 1980s, along with his writing partner Tom Davis, doing a bang-up impression of the Rolling Stones:

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In interviews released this morning, Sarah Palin repeated that the reason she is stepping down is to spare Alaska from spending more time and money investigating ethics claims against her.

She blamed the ethics complaints on the "opposition research" flooding into Alaska after John McCain named her his running mate to "dig up dirt."

Palin gave a slew of interviews last night at her husband's family's fishing spot in western Alaska. During the photo op, in which she wore overall waders and full makeup, she gave 10 minutes to each news outlet: CNN, NBC, ABC and Anchorage Daily News. (FOX was also there, but hasn't aired the interview yet.)

She noted that she now has $500,000 in legal bills and, although she tried to keep the focus on the state's expenditures, she let loose this key point:

The adversaries would love to see us put on a path of personal bankruptcy so we couldn't afford to run.

That almost seems like an acknowledgment that she had to leave office in order to be able, financially, to run for higher office.

More highlights, and video, after the jump.

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